St. Denis, Ruth 1879-1968

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St. DENIS, Ruth 1879-1968

PERSONAL: Original name, Ruth Dennis; name changed, 1906; born January 20, 1879, in Sommerville, NJ; died 1968, in CA; daughter of Thomas Laban (an inventor and machinist) and Ruth Emma (a physician) Dennis; married Ted Shawn (a dancer), 1914 (separated, 1931). Education: Attended Packer-Collegiate Institute.

CAREER: Dancer and choreographer. Performed as a skirt dancer in dime museums, roof gardens, and theater productions, New York, NY, 1892; choreographed and performed on tour in United States and Europe; partnered with husband Ted Shawn, 1914; Denishawn School and Dance Company, cofounder with Shawn, 1915-31; Society of Spiritual Arts, founder, 1931; Adelphi College, Garden City, NY, director, 1938; School of Natya, cofounder, 1940; Church of the Divine Dance, founder, 1947.

AWARDS, HONORS: Capezio Award, 1961; Dance Teachers of America Award, 1964.


Lotus Light (poems) [Cambridge, MA], 1932, text incorporated into As I Love the Earth, Eden Valley Press (Loveland, CO), 1992.

Ruth St. Denis, an Unfinished Life (autobiography) Harper & Brothers (New York, NY), 1939.

St. Denis and the Dance; A Conversation with Ruth St. Denis on the Range of Her Art (sound recording) Center for Cassette Studies, 1975.

Wisdom Comes Dancing: Selected Writings of Ruth St. Denis on Dance, Spirituality, and the Body, edited and with an introduction by Kamae A. Miller, PeaceWorks (Seattle, WA), 1997.

Contributor to Atlanta Journal, Sunday Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Theatre Arts, Denishawn Magazine, and Musical Courier.

SIDELIGHTS: Dancer and choreographer Ruth St. Denis had little training before embarking on her career in dance. As a child she took some dance classes and attempted to study ballet with Mme. Bonfanti, but was kicked out after only a few classes. She therefore began her career as a skirt dancer and in small theater roles.

In 1898 Broadway producer and director David Belasco hired her as a dancer, and gave her the name St. Denis. St. Denis was interested in blending dance, Asian influences, and spirituality. An ad featuring the Egyptian goddess Isis inspired her to create an Egyptian ballet, which was not completed at that time due to expenses. Instead, in 1906 she choreographed Radha, a Hindu ballet in which she was the solo dancer. A contributor to the International Dictionary of Modern Dance noted, "St. Denis was the first dancer to interpret Asian dance forms with imagination, integrity, and a spiritual seriousness which went far beyond the early and prurient scarf dancing and hootchy kootchy."

In 1915 St. Denis and husband Ted Shawn founded the Denishawn School and Dance Company. The first school opened in California, and twelve more schools opened throughout the United States between 1922 and 1925. Denishawn, according to a Star-Ledger contributor, "produced the artists who laid the foundations of what we now know as modern dance."

Wisdom Comes Dancing: Selected Writings of Ruth St. Denis on Dance, Spirituality, and the Body, edited by Kamae A. Miller, is a collection of St. Denis's poems, lectures, manuscripts, essays, and photographs. US Net contributor Iris J. Stewart called it "An exquisite collection of poetry and prose by 'Miss Ruth'"



International Dictionary of Modern Dance, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Booklist, April 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Wisdom Comes Dancing: Selected Writings of Ruth St. Denis on Dance, Spirituality, and the Body, p. 1375.

Star-Ledger, January 28, 1996, "The Mother of Modern Dance."


Encyclopedia Britannica, (April 15, 2002), "St. Denis, Ruth."

New York Public Library Digital Library Collection, (April 15, 2002), "St. Denis (Ruth) Papers, ca. 1915-1985: Biographical Sketch."

Sonny Watson's Street Swing, (April 15, 2002), "Ruth St. Denis."

University of Pittsburgh, (April 15, 2002), "Chapter 2: The Solo Dancers: Ruth St. Denis (1879-1968)."

US Net, (April 15, 2002), Iris J. Stewart, "Ruth."*

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St. Denis, Ruth 1879-1968